How I Learned to Love Hate Radio

KSFO Radio's anti-fans

The citizens gracefully receive their slap on the wrist from the nanny-state, embracing self-reform. They accept ever broadened definitions of the word "hate," and ever more sweeping extensions of the concept, seemingly without question. They relinquish their right to hate, and then to speak of hate, and then to speak.

Hate of an 11-Year-Old

"Let's talk to Jamie, he's 11 years old. Hi Jamie." The hosts love to put kids on the air. Even if they have little to say, the cute factor nearly always makes good radio.

"Are you talking about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence today?" Jamie asked.

"Yes we are."

"Good, because I hate all faggots! If they come near me, I'll kill them."

Radio people measure their working lives in seconds. A missed cue results in two seconds of silence that sounds like an eternity, yet a 30-second sign-off can be impossibly short. The rookies can be distinguished from the veterans by the way they work with seconds. A real pro can write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin. On this day, the day I encountered the one and only moment of authentic hate in my unfolding talk radio career, I was still a rookie. I had seven seconds -- the delay between what is said, and what is broadcast -- to react, which is, in fact, a very long time.

Did he say what I think he said? The little bastard lied to me! He was perfectly angelic when I screened him. Do I hit the button? Strictly speaking, he didn't use an obscenity. And yet, he was outrageous. The host had already hung up, and was issuing a rebuke. Yes, that's the smart response. Censure, not censor. I turned my head to look at the button, which appeared to be a thousand miles away. I was glued to the spot. My seven seconds were gone.

Today it would take me a microsecond to dump the little creep -- but not because of his unsavory message. As a Libertarian, I reject the notion that hateful idiots should be censored. The utterances of hateful idiots are full of valuable information. In civilized society, so-called hate speech is one of the only primitive scents we still carry. It sends a signal to others. It tweaks intuition, provides a social sorting tool, and offers lessons to everyone who encounters it.

Nonetheless, if Jamie repeated his stunt today, it would never hit the air. I would bounce him, not to suppress his words, but to protect the integrity of my product, which I have learned to love. I would do it to keep his homophobic remark from creating a moment of validation, accidentally or not, for the anti-fan claim that conservative radio is hate radio. I would give the anti-fans a moment of sanitized radio. Isn't that something they clamor for? Given the choice, wouldn't the anti-fans take sanitized radio over having to endure the immature rant of a badly brought-up 11-year-old? I wonder if they would be angered knowing that I made the choice for them.

Sometimes I listen to the real hate radio, from the BBC World Service, where they serve up bloody marketplace bombings, mass torture, institutionalized rape, and other horrors that are commonplace around the world. In these places, hate is a fact of daily life, woven into the warp and the weft of social fabric. Why do we conduct an obsessive search for hate under every American bed, when a survey of the world illustrates that we harbor little of it? Have we become so confused by designer hate that we think it's the real thing? Are we so out of touch with the big picture?

Deep in our American souls we know the difference. Aberrant incidents like the Wyoming murder of Matthew Shepard and the Texas pickup truck dragging of James Byrd are barometers of the American attitude toward real hate. The American people were unanimous in their horror and rage. In both areas, the locals rushed to avert regional stereotypes, publicly condemning the attitudes behind the killings. The trials produced stern justice with minimum deliberation, supported in spirit by the entire population. In this country we find real hate repugnant, and we give it little room to breathe.

Sex and Hell

Every phone line in the studio is blinking. The on-air discussion has turned to sex education, and the introduction of gay sex into the curriculum. I answer the KSFO listener line for roughly the zillionth time in 18 months, sounding, if I do say so myself, as chipper as I did on my first day.

"KSFO, do you have a comment for Barbara?"

"The haters are preaching hate again." His tone is deliberately menacing. "She sounds just like Hitler right now. You're all a bunch of Nazis."

Abruptly, I abandon my regular phone policy, which prescribes treating even the nastiest anti-fans with detached politeness.

"Why don't you change the station!" I snap. "We're not in a one-station town. If this is so upsetting to you, why don't you listen to something else?"

"Because I'm on a one-man crusade against hate. Hate equals hell, and you're all going to hell."

This is not the first suggestion that my immortal soul is in danger. I take a moment to contemplate a hell filled with pornographers and talk show personnel.

"Perhaps in hell they are more tolerant of diverse opinions," I reply. But he's already gone.

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